Rebecca West and her husband, the protagonists of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, are in Dalmatia (i.e., Croatia) at the moment, at Split, where they are visiting Diocletian’s Palace. (Diocletian having been a Roman emperor in the late 3rd and early 4th century.) Here, the picture to the right will give you an idea.
The year is 1936.
They make the acquaintance of a man West describes as follows: “The Professor is a great Latinist and was the pupil, assistant, and close friend of Bulitch, the famous scholar who spent his life working on the antiquities of Split and Salonæ. He is in his late sixties, but has the charm of extreme youth, for he comes to a pleasure and hails it happily for what it is without any bitterness accumulated from past disappointments, and he believes that any moment the whole process of life may make a slight switchover and that everything will be agreeable for ever.”
A Latinist! How wonderful! And a man whose approach to life I would gladly emulate, if I could just manage it. But it gets far, far better.
To start the conversation we talked of what we meant to do in Split before we set off southwards down the coast. ‘You really must go up to the park on Mount Marian, that hill below the town,’ said [our young friend] Philip; ‘it is most beautiful up there among the pines, looking over the sea and the islands.’ ‘Yes, indeed,’ I said. ‘I was there last year, and I want to go again. It interested me to see that in Robert Adam’s drawings there isn’t a tree on the hill, it is just bare rock. I suppose the Austrians planted it.’ ‘They did not!’ cried the Professor, leaping from his chair. ‘And shall I tell you who did? I myself, I did it. I found in the archives uncontestable proof that there were once trees on that hill, which were cut down to make Venetian galleys. So I formed the idea that there could be trees there again, and I started a society to do it. Many people thought it was madness and my poor wife received anonymous letters saying that I should be put into a lunatic asylum.
OMG! A tree-planting Latinist! Whose wife received anonymous letters saying that he should be put into a lunatic asylum just as my wife has been advised to do with me!
Is there nothing, nothing at all new under the sun?
By the way, Wikipedia on Mount Marjan in Split, Croatia: “Marjan (pronounced “MARyan”) is a hill on the peninsula of the city of Split, largest city of Croatia’s Dalmatia region. It is covered in a dense Mediterranean pine forest and completely surrounded by the city and the sea, making it a unique sight. Originally used as a park by the citizens as early as the 3rd century, it is a favorite weekend excursion destination and a recreational center for the city.” Here’s what it looks like today:
That’s a lovely story, don’t you think?